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Blueshirts Flashback -- 1958-59

Defenseman Lou Fontinato was one of the most popular tough guys in Rangers history. Known to fans as "Leapin' Louie", he set the standard for the kind of rough stuff and hustle that continues to turn Rangers players into fan favorites more than 50 years after Fontinato entered the league. The following is an actual feature on Fontinato, written by Bill Seward for a 1958-59 edition of the Rangers' game program:

There's Another Side of Fontinato, a Really Thoughtful Guy Off the Ice

Hockey fans in cities from coast to coast via TV have come to think of Lou Fontinato as one of the meanest of all men, as bad as any villain ever overtaken by Hopalong Cassidy in the Western movies that Lou himself so likes to watch. The two probable exceptions are New York, where Louie is the hero of Madison Square Garden, and Guelph, Ontario, a city of 33,000 where just about everybody knows the other side of Lou Fontinato.

To his teammates, Lou is known as a hockey player who restricts his diet as carefully as a petite model, a religious man who attends church four or five mornings a week, a wise investor in the stock market, a scrupulous observer of Coach Phil Watson's training rules who shuns the temptations of Broadway, and a favorite of the children in his Astoria, Long Island, neighborhood where the youngsters often gather to talk with Louie on his walks to the corner for a newspaper. And in Guelph he is remembered as a boy who has loved to skate ever since he was shown how by his five older sisters and who at the age of nine played his first hockey for Sacred Heart School.

Lou Fontinato, who wore No. 8, played more than 400 games with the Rangers between 1954-55 and 1960-61. The popular Blueshirt was traded for Hockey Hall of Famer Doug Harvey and spent the last two years of his career playing for Montreal.
In his wallet, Louie carries a clipping titled "The Meaning of Charity," and by these words he tries to live, despite what might be said by opponents who have crossed sticks with the big defenseman. The clipping reads:

"It's silence when your words would hurt,
It's patience when your neighbor is curt,
It's deafness when a scandal flows,
It's thoughtfulness for others' woes,
It's promptness when stern duty calls,
It's courage when misfortune falls."

Lou himself was a bit embarrassed when he was discovered reading the clipping on one of the Rangers' many train trips. "That first line will save me money," he suggested in reference to league fines that hound him from time to time. And Lou also has been embarrassed when found by newspapermen demonstrating hockey points to a crowd of young boys. Most big leaguers are amiable enough when it comes to signing a few autographs but aren't anxious to spend a couple of hours.

During the season Louie must avoid the fattening Italian food that he savors. His favorite recreation is movies, even though his girlfriend in Guelph often is irritated by Lou's insistence on a Western if one is showing.

"There are few movies on Broadway that I don't see," Lou remarked. "I'll take a good Western any time, and I must admit I like to see John Wayne or Gary Cooper best of all. This is about as far as I go in the way of entertainment. I really had my eyes opened when I first came to New York, but at heart I'm really a small-town boy."

In hockey, Lou likes it "hard and rough but clean." He has no yen for scoring goals, and cheerfully accepts the fact that his job is to keep opponents from scoring. That he is soundly hooted for his efforts in rival cities no longer bothers him.

"It used to bother me some, but now I rather like it because it shows I'm doing my job well," says Lou. ""My sisters often see the games in Toronto and they get a kick out of it, too. It's my mother who tells me to be more careful." Mrs. Fontinato no doubt remembers the 12 stitches once needed to reshape one of Lou's ears and the 16 stitches once put in his mouth.

"It's a good thing I don't get paid for scoring goals," Lou mentioned. "My job is to prevent goals, and Watson has told me he doesn't care if I never score one. I'm happy as long as the club is going good."

As much as he likes to play hockey in New York, and the many friends he's met among the Ranger fans, Lou still likes Guelph best, returns there every summer and plans to live there whenever hockey doesn't take him elsewhere. He helps tend a big garden at home, tramps in the woods and fishes as pleasurable ways of keeping in condition. He also plays quite a bit of golf, a favorite summer recreation of other Rangers such as Andy Bathgate and Bill Gadsby.

"Naturally my appetite isn't so great in the summer when I'm not playing hockey. But I never let my weight go up," Lou remarked.

As for this bad-man business, Lou admitted there are some players he keeps an eye on for an opportunity to really smack. Of course he hits hard all the time, even in practice, but there are some opponents who he thinks go out of their way to play "dirty."

"If a guy gives me a clean check, I don't mind, but if he goes out of his way to jab me with the stick or play dirty I remember and keep my eye on him," Lou said. And sometimes it is more than an eye that Lou puts on a rival.

There was one check, Louie remembers, which took the sails out of him early in his career. It was thrown by Lee Fogolin of Chicago, and separated his ribs pretty badly. That night, and the next one, Lou couldn't stretch out in a bed, or anywhere else. He remembers sitting up all night in a rocking chair. But when the bell rang for the next Ranger game, Lou was there in uniform.

More recently, Fontinato was sliced over an ear by the stick of Gordie Howe. This wounded his pride deeply, particularly since the game was on television and Lou knew Mama Fontinato was looking. They stitched him up and, over his objections, put a thick headdress of gauze over the scalp and ear. Then they asked him if he could go out there again.

"I'll go," he said, "but please have the announcer say I'm not as hurt as I look to be. I don't want mama to worry about it."

The 26-year-old Rangers doesn't ignore the future. He knows it's unusual when a player lasts in the National Hockey League more than 10 years. This accounts for his interest in the stock market, where he invests regularly, and he doesn't hide his wish to some day be a coach, perhaps a playing coach in the minors when his major league days are running out.